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Proletarian issue 42 (June 2011)
Death of reggae star Smiley Culture
Another extra-judicial execution by the police for the crime of being black?
The media is great at chasing a story, and particularly so when it’s during the holiday season. A child abduction or a murder investigation can be turned into hours of endless banal news coverage, usually implicating innocent individuals, or worse still turning a tragedy into a never-ending saga with book releases, charity bashes, trips back and forth to Portugal, television shows and radio interviews, (usually on the eve of another book release).

Reporters unpick every angle imaginable in the case, interview bemused and dazzled neighbours and pull out the psychologists, pathologists and ‘experts’. Yet when it comes to those murders that have a political element, or perhaps involve crimes against victimised sections of the population, our 24-hour news coverage seems to turn deaf and dumb.

That’s the reason you may not have heard of the recent death of 1980s reggae star Smiley Culture, aka David Emmanuel, who, according to the police version of events, stabbed himself in the heart whilst making a cup of tea when they raided his home in March. This is how the Sun reported after the incident:

Reggae star Smiley Culture flashed a knife at a cop and said: ‘You want some? I do’ ... A Met officer said he watched in horror as Smiley, 48, plunged the blade into his own heart during a drugs bust at his home.

The singer, real name David Emmanuel, had gone into the kitchen of the mansion to make a cup of tea. One source said of the Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry: ‘The officer said he was monitoring Mr Emmanuel who picked up a knife, waved it in his direction and said, “Do you want some?” A split second later Mr Emmanuel turned the blade towards himself, said “I do” and stabbed himself in the chest.’

Following the death of Smiley Culture a number of protests have been held to put pressure on the police to come clean about the real story behind the singer’s death, and this in turn has given impetus to a wider campaign to highlight deaths in police custody that has been ongoing for many years.

Newsline reported from a ‘No justice, no peace’ rally attended by 2,000 people outside Scotland Yard in April, where Jody McIntyre (famously pulled from his wheelchair by police during the student protests) had this to say:

“We are here to demand justice for the family of Sean Rigg. To demand justice for David Emmanuel, for Kingsley Burrell, and for every family who lost someone at the hands of the police. When the people of Egypt rose up and threw off the chains of Mubarak, they were demanding justice. In Tunisia, people demanded justice. We would be very foolish to rely on any of the three political parties. We have to rely on the people. The police know they have no alternative but to take action.” (Our emphasis)

Merlin Emmanuel, Smiley Culture’s nephew, told the crowd: “We have been betrayed by the state ... The British judicial system needs changing. Yesterday, we were burying my uncle David Emmanuel, also known as Smiley Culture. He would be here if it were not for the police. A few days ago, another man died, Kingsley Burrell.”

Addressing his words to Scotland Yard, Emmanuel continued: “You people here, hear us: you are not above the law. We demand every officer, when it comes to deaths in custody, should immediately be suspended. People should not be employed to investigate who have a conflict of interest ... This is not the end, we are just warming up,” he warned.

One of the marchers highlighted some of the many black and other working-class people who have died at the hands of the police: “I’m here because I know people who died in custody. I’ve got members of my family who’ve been assaulted by police. We’ve experienced the lies. I experienced it when I was 16. I’m 45 now but we used to get stopped all the time.

“Over the years, nothing’s changed. I still see police treating youngsters with disrespect – pulling them over, searching them. And they don’t want you witnessing them doing it. As for Smiley’s death, no-one believes the unofficial line that he was allowed to go into the kitchen to have a cup of tea, where he allegedly stabbed himself. There has been no official statement. They just try to cover things up, as in the Stockwell shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

“Ian Tomlinson was supposed to be aggressive towards police. Brian Douglas was hit across the head while backing off from police – that was according to their testimony. In none of these cases were there charges.”

Another marcher spoke about the recent death of Kingsley Burrell in Birmingham: “Kingsley Burrell died as a result of contact with the police. He had called the police for assistance when he felt threatened while he was with his five-year-old son. He was arrested by the police and taken to a mental-health institution. As a result, he ended up in hospital and hours later he died.

“We’re here today to march with Smiley Culture’s family. We are representing all the deaths in police custody, which is 500 deaths to date. Not one police officer has ever been convicted. It’s time all the families got justice, once and for all.”

In a very positive development, the march was co-organised by the PCS union, who provided stewards. A marcher, who came from Nottingham, said: “It’s not just about race, it’s about class. The lower classes are being pushed further down. The privileged and the government are given free rein. They seem to do what they want and people have had enough of it.

“The police are part of the establishment – they’re the biggest gang of them all! The police seem to have power with no recourse. They are allowed to work and go on with their lives when somebody has died. Everybody needs to band together and not allow themselves to be divided. The unions should take action. Everybody should stand up now. You can’t sit at home doing nothing and watch it on the TV, you have to take action.” (All quotations from ‘Deaths in police custody must stop! – says Smiley Culture march’, Newsline, 18 April 2011)

That a man can be alleged to have killed himself by stabbing himself in the heart whilst the police were searching his home with a warrant should worry us all. Such absurd stories and terrible killings are not rare, and often escape serious coverage. Who remembers the names Brian Douglas, Sean Rigg and Roger Sylvester? Many thousands of other (often black or Asian) men and women have been killed in police custody.

The media have no desire to cover these state-sponsored, racist crimes. Operating as an integral part of the state apparatus, they’ll bombard us 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the supposed ‘crimes’ of Colonel Gaddafi, the defender of Libya’s freedom, but hardly ever say a word about the persecutions and executions being carried out daily here at home.

But that’s not surprising really, especially when we remember some of the horrendous details around these murders: how Christopher Alder lay dying on the floor in the police station while officers stood over the gasping man and mocked him with ‘monkey chants’, for example.

It seems as though the police learn nothing. Either that or they feel so unassailable in their blue uniforms that they continue to murder in the most brutal fashion and then proceed with the patchiest and most unlikely cover stories they can dream up.

Who could forget the wild accusations thrown against Ian Tomlinson? Who could forget the ‘imminent threat’ posed by John Charles de Menezes? It was only after public uproar that some truth around the events of these murders surfaced, although no agent, policeman or otherwise, has yet faced criminal charges.

If we want to put a stop to these killings we need to do our best to publicise them amongst the people, and to build up a mighty campaigning voice that cannot go unheard.

No justice, no peace!
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